Ward Room's Race to Watch: Illinois Senate

Race to Watch is a weekly Ward Room column dedicated to helping voters familiarize themselves with candidates in the lead-up to the March 15 primary elections. This week’s focus is the Illinois Senate race.

Republican incumbent Mark Kirk won his seat in 2010, beating out Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, Green Party nominee LeAlan Jones and Libertarian Mike Labno.

Since being elected to Senate, Kirk has made the fight against terrorism a top priority. Recently, the senator called for a temporary cessation to the program bringing Syrian refugees to the U.S.

“As long as the screening process is weak, Senator Kirk is calling for a pause in the program to ensure those seeking to take advantage of our nation are stopped,” Kirk spokesperson Eleni Demertzis told Ward Room.

Kirk’s senate seat was previously held by Roland Burress who was appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich after Barack Obama vacated the seat to serve as President of the United States.

The senator was commissioned for duty as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1989. He was later recalled to active duty in 1999 when he participated in Operation Allied Force during the Kosovo War.

Kirk retired from the Navy Reserve in 2013 after 23 years of service. He has since called for reforms to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The VA has become a corrupt, political and bureaucratic mess on many levels- the more we learn, the worse it is,” Demertzis said. “As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Senator Kirk has confronted the VA at every level.”

Kirk previously served Illinois’ 10th district as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2010. During his tenure as a representative, Kirk co-chaired a handful of house committees including the US-China Working group, which he founded.

Kirk is considered a social moderate and fiscal conservative. According to OpenCongress, Kirk has voted with his party 73 percent during his time in senate.

Aside from this, he is a pro-choice gun-control advocate who believes in climate change. Kirk has worked to preserve the Great Lakes and undercut government corruption during his first term in the U.S. Senate.

“It is imperative that Congress continues to protect the Great Lakes, which support over one million jobs and provide drinking water for more than 30 million Americans,” Demertzis said. “Senator Kirk recently secured $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which will combat the threat of invasive species, pollution and toxic contamination.”

Kirk will face Oswego businessman James Marter in the March 15 Republican primary.

Marter has 30 years of experience working as an executive entrepreneur in information technology, project management and business process implementation.

Marter previously worked for Morse Data Corporation, Dow Chemical Company and SAP America before starting his own company, Marter Enterprises, LLC, in 2002.

“I think we need someone who stands for limited government,” Marter told Ward Room. “I’m pretty much the grassroots candidate.”

Marter fears that Kirk is “not holding anyone in Washington accountable to the tax code” and accuses him of siding with Dick Durbin on most issues.

Marter’s campaign has focused on traveling the state to get the vote out and has relied on small donations from supporters to fund his campaign.

Marter is a pro-life candidate who believes strongly in Second Amendment rights.

Democratic frontrunner Tammy Duckworth will face Andrea Zopp and Napoleon Harris in the March 15 Democratic primary.

Duckworth has served as a U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 8th congressional district since 2013.

She joined the United States Army Reserve in 1990 and lost her leg in 2004 while co-piloting a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq.

Duckworth subsequently served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs from 2006 to 2009 and later as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the US Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2011.

After losing the 2006 race for Illinois’ 6th congressional district house seat to Republican Peter Roskam, Duckworth launched a successful 2010 bid for the state’s 8th congressional district house seat.

In that race, Duckworth defeated former Deputy Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi in the Democratic primary and incumbent Republican Joe Walsh in the general election.

While in office, Duckworth has served on the US House Committee on Armed Services and the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

During her tenure, Duckworth has called for improvements to veterans’ health care and public education as well as more oversight of military spending. Duckworth has also advocated for gun control and pro-choice causes.

Although Duckworth plans to make the jump from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate, Duckworth's team assures Ward Room that her priorities will not change.

"Tammy will continue to do what she’s always done: fight for working families and small business, which are the engine of the Illinois economy," Duckworth's spokesperson Matt McGrath told Ward Room. "In contrast to Senator Kirk, who has voted twice for the Ryan Budget — which would hike taxes on woking families to pay for a tax cut for those at the top — Tammy believes we need to make our tax code fairer for middle-class families and small businesses."

In the next two weeks Duckworth will open field offices throughout the state to serve as local headquarters for staff and volunteers.

"Tammy has been traveling across the state and engaging in conversations with Illinois voters," McGrath said. "Everywhere she goes, whether it’s Chicago, the suburbs, or communities Downstate, she’s hearing the same thing: Illinois families are feeling squeezed."

If elected, Duckworth is dedicated to making college education more affordable by expanding the Pell Grant program and allowing students to refinance their student loans.

"People feel like they’re working harder than ever before, but are having a harder time making ends meet," McGrath said. "They’re worried about being able to pay for college, and they’re worried about reaching a secure, dignified retirement."

Duckworth was recently endorsed by the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Transport Workers Union. 

She was also an invited guest of President Barack Obama for his address at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Andrea Zopp is a Harvard Law graduate who served as First Assistant in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. She also served in the United State’s Attorney’s Office.

“As a former prosecutor, she curbed illegal guns, prosecuted a police officer who shot an unarmed black homeless man, and led in the creation of drug courts to help those with addiction, instead of jail them,” Zopp spokesperson Bryce Colquitt told Ward Room.

Zopp was appointed to the Chicago School Board by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and to the Cook County Health and Hospital System Board by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

She has held executive positions at a variety of Fortune 500 companies including Sara Lee, Sears Holdings and Exelon. In addition to this, she has also served as President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

Zopp currently serves as a board member for Urban Partnership Bank which manages over a billion dollars in assets.

Zopp has mounted a formidable first campaign for public office, drawing endorsements from Congressman Bobby Rush, Congressman Danny Davis, Treasurer Kurt Summers and 100 other elected officials.

“She has travelled across more of the state than any other candidate, logging over 3,000 miles,” Colquitt said. “When elected, she will serve as a senator for all of Illinois, and will listen to people from all over the state.”

Napoleon Harris is a state senator serving Illinois’ 15th District which covers portions of Cook and Will Counties.

During his tenure as state senator, Harris has focused on improving education and local business while improving neighborhoods in his district.

Harris has served on the Illinois senate’s Transportation, Public Health and Commerce and Economic development committees. He is also the Vice Chair of the Insurance Committee.

Harris is a Northwestern-graduate and former first round NFL draft pick who played seven seasons as a pro.

Harris did not respond to Ward Room’s request for comment.

For continued coverage of the race follow Ward Room's Campaign Round-Up.

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